The real-life reality of Stevie J
Steven Jordan is a bad boy for life — for real
“Damn, ma,” Stevie J coos from his suite at a tony hotel in Atlanta’s ritzy Buckhead. “I like that sexy tone you have going on. Might have to put you on the bus.”
He can’t help himself.
Well, he can. He just doesn’t care to.
Buffalo-born Stevie J, 44, is a certified reality star — he plays to his charms and gives the people what they want. And based on the record-breaking ratings for Love & Hip Hop Atlanta series on VH1, what folks want from the producer and musician is even more deliciously nasty goodness. Stevie J—a former gospel musician who once averaged 12 points a game at Rochester, New York’s Ben Franklin High School—is now a caricature of a two-timing womanizer. On the show, he had the audacity to ask both women in his life — his former girlfriend Mimi Faust and his lover/wife/artist Joseline Hernandez — to go to therapy to see if they can make a relationship between the three of them work. A meme-worthy nugget he dropped in one of those sessions: He’s the driver, and the women are passengers on his bus. “I got the passes for the bus,” he said in that therapy session. And the bus driver — through all of the communication breakdowns, ménage à trois madness and parking lot beat downs —has been serious now for five seasons.
The series comes from longtime music manager Mona Scott-Young, whose client list included marquee names like Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, 50 Cent and LL Cool J. But with her growing empire of VH1 hip-hop reality shows, she’s now making megastars out of little-known music managers like Rich Dollaz, one-hit wonders like Peter Gunz and all the love-struck people who can’t live without them. Iterations of the series currently exist in Los Angeles, New York as well as Atlanta, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if new cities were announced soon.
The first show debuted in 2011, and it instantly turned into reality TV gold. In 2014, the network had the second-largest year-over-year net ratings gain of any nonsports cable network among adults in the 18-49 demographic. VH1 cited Love & Hip Hop Atlanta as a key reason for that. Last season’s finale was the No.1 cable telecast among all adults in the same demographic with more than 5 million viewers tuning in.
Atlanta raised the intensity bar even higher in 2012. When the season debuted, the only recognizable new character was a crunk rapper named Lil’ Scrappy, who in ’06 had a hit called “Money in the Bank.” Most of the other characters were relative unknowns such as singer K. Michelle and local rapper Rasheeda Frost but they laid their lives out. The Atlanta season was lit — table-shaking café fights, fake-butt accusations and a friendship-ending domestic violence storyline.
But it was Stevie J’s story that was both jaw-dropping and wholly gratifying. A music producer with an affinity for a pretty face (and a fat rear end), it seemed like he spent more time inside of a strip club than a recording studio. We learned too much about the Stevie J the lady’s man. But Stevie J the musician? Not so much.
A reminder: Stevie J created or co-created music that has been purchased by and listened to and danced to by millions and millions of people around the world. He’s won three Grammy Awards, including one for the 1997 Notorious B.I.G. memorial track “I’ll Be Missing You.” Other pivotal hits he’s helmed include 112’s gold debut single “Only You” (with Biggie), Lil’ Kim’s 1996 gold debut single “No Time” (featuring Puff Daddy), Mariah Carey’s 1997 No. 1 pop “Honey” (with The Lox), The Notorious B.I.G’s posthumously released No. 1 pop hit “Mo Money Mo Problems” with Puff Daddy and Mase and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But after amassing this massive level of success, musical tastes shifted, and Stevie J by his own admission became too much to handle. Soon, nobody wanted to work him. Reality TV has become his saving grace. “I’m grateful,” Stevie J said of reality TV producers Scott-Young, Stephanie Gayle, Stefan Springman and Toby Barraud. “They knew what they were doing when they came and got me. They helped me resurrect and rejuvenate my career.”
This weekend, one of the most anticipated concerts of the summer hits. Diddy Combs (and friends) will celebrate what would have been the Notorious B.I.G’s 44th birthday. It happens at Brooklyn, New York’s, Barclays Center and the two-night show will bring together Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim, Mase, French Montana, Total, and 112 and even Jay Z. The first night of the concert sold out in seven minutes. Much of the music expected to be performed at the shows — Evans’ 1995 “Soon As I Get Home” remix, Total’s ’96 “Kissing You” remix, and Jay Z’s ’98 “Ride or Die” — will be the tunes that Stevie J created or helped to create.
In a candid conversation, Stevie J talks on being a legend, being a meme, and why music will forever be the love of his life.
When did you fall in love with music? My dad had a gospel band, and my uncles used to rehearse at my house. I wanted to be in my dad’s gospel band at 6 years old and when I started beating on pots and pans, [I heard] ‘When you get good enough on pots and pans, I’ll let you play drums, so you got to put a hole in all the pots and pans.’ A year later, I was playing drums for the Jordan Gospel Singers. My uncle let me pick up his guitar and I started learning that. My dad let me pick up his bass and I started learning that. The keyboard players let me test their keyboards. As I went to high school, I picked up the trumpet and saxophone and various instruments.
You’re self-taught? I never took a lesson for anything — all God-given talent. A lot of cats nowadays, they don’t play instruments. I looked up the best of them and that’s all I wanted to be. The best.
How did you transition from playing with dad’s gospel group to working with a record label? It started my senior year of high school. My brothers were all going to Buffalo State and University of Buffalo — and I got kicked out of high school — left school early without telling them, and they were like, ‘Yo, you got suspended.’ My brother was like, ‘You sing — we might use you in these talent shows, and we can win all these talent shows. Call it the Jordan Brothers.’ All of my brothers could play instruments and sing too, so I started singing at these shows, and we won everything. When people would come over to hear the beats I started making, they’d be like, ‘Hell, this sounds like it need to be on the radio!’ When Jodeci came out, I was doing the same type of material they were doing. So everybody was like, ‘You got to get out of Buffalo, man. It’s too small for you.’ I went back to Rochester for a fashion show and it was like a dull crowd in there. So I went to the bar, got a drink, came back, and it was packed. They said a special guest was in the house … Jodeci!
What! Really? I was singing and they had my beats, so when it was over, K-Ci, JoJo, and Mr. Dalvin came up to me like, ‘Yo, you nice. Who did the beats?’ And I was like, ‘Me.’ They were like, ‘Yo, get out of here!’ So I was like, ‘There’s a piano in the back. I can play all y’all joints.’ I went to the back and started playing and singing their songs and they were like, ‘You ain’t never going home. You’re staying with us!’ I ended up working on their The Show, The After Party The Hotel album. I stayed with them for a year and a half. Then I met Puff after that.
You became one of Diddy’s creative collective, The Hitmen. I became the hit man. I share that because a lot of the tracks that we were working on, they were sample-based records. And I was the cleanup man as far as every record that had a sample. I had to recreate every sound with the live instrument. Even though we had samples, our songs would sound so full because I’d replay every instrument on them.
Bad Boy invented the remix. But really, it’s Stevie J who invented the remix … I’m not going to take credit from Puff. Puff is a mastermind. And he’s got one of the best ears I’ve ever seen in music. He invented the remix, but I co-signed the remix with him. We invented the remix together. I give him credit for showing me how to make a hot hip-hop beat. I was more musical with mine, and he showed me how to put those drums with the R&B sound and make a nice little hip-hop/R&B mesh. Transcended my whole life and career.
What was it like hearing the criticisms about sampling? There’s always going to be haters, and haters make us greater! Our conversations were like, ‘We’re not even going to let them know that we got the live sound in there. We’re just going to let them keep thinking it’s all sample-based.’ While we creating, we were all just laughs. They’d have no idea that we’re hooking up guitars, basses, drums, keyboards, pianos, organs. We’d sit back and laugh amongst ourselves knowing that true musicianship was added to all of our records.
Take me in the studio with Stevie J. Where do you start? We talking Now Stevie J? Or are we talking Then Stevie J?
Then Stevie J. Then Stevie J was like, I have to have the girls in the studio just to set up a vibe. Some beautiful women, some good wine, some spirits. A great atmosphere, pleasure going on. We’d listen to the conversations in the room and just create from the energy that was being in the room. From nothing, to the energy. Most of the time when you have that type of energy, you’ll get “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” or you’ll get a “Honey” for Mariah. When it’s a sexy, up-tempo energy, that’s what you’re going to get. And when it’s all the fellas in the room, and it’s nice and cloudy in there, you’re gonna get a “Notorious Thugs,” or you’re going to get “Somebody Gotta Die,” or something like that.
How did recording “I’ll Be Missing You” come together? You and Diddy produced it …
That’s a real sad moment in not just my life, Puff’s life, Bad Boy’s life, but just to hip-hop. We lost Christopher Wallace. I remember walking in the session and … Puff was there, Faith [B.I.G’s widow and labelmate] was there, 112 was there. We were listening to a lot of music just to get over the moment. We listened to like 10 records, and then that song came on.
The Police song? The Police song. And everybody just [started singing], ‘Every breath I take / Every move I make …’ and it was like, ‘Whoa, hold on.’ Puff was like, ‘Chop that up.’ So I put the beat together and then I played the guitar part over, and laid the drums on it, and played a bass line on it, I put the bass on it. Then that’s when Faith came up with the hook, and 112 put their part on it, and Puff began to sit there and create the lyrics for the record. It was real emotional, but it was uplifting after we finished it.
Did you have any feeling that track would be as major as it was?
It was definitely therapeutic doing the record. We were all quiet, and it felt so good that we knew we would make him happy. It wasn’t about, ‘Oh, how many records are we going to sell from this?’ It was like, ‘I think he’s smiling down.’ And one of the lyrics to this song is, ‘I know you in heaven smiling down.’ That’s the way we felt when we were making the record … I had no idea it would sell so many records and become a No. 1 hit.
What made you do reality TV? Reality television was hot, so … I’m studying [it] while I’m still in the studio. I’m not as hot as I was in the ’90s [at this point], but I’m still in the lab, right? So I was like, ‘What is missing in reality TV?’ I’m nice with the music, but that’s not what I want to show right now. If I start it out with the personality, I can stretch this out. So I’m like, ‘I can come to TV with two women, because it’s really real with me.’ It used to be more [women] than that, but I dumbed it down for television and came to TV with just two. I had in my mind, when I hit television — I wanted to be risqué and I wanted to have the same effect [on people] as I’d had in music. I wanted people to pay attention. It might not have been conventional, but it’s something 90 percent of men go through. I wanted to put my life on the table. I’ve showed the world something different.
That is true. If you look at hip-hop history, I’ve sold over 120 million records. I have four Grammys — and I’ve done the same thing on television. No. 1 every year. And with the Stevie J and Joseline Show, No. 2. So — No. 1 and No. 2 shows on Viacom. It equals the 120 million records and the four Grammys.
Does it bother you to see the memes that your storylines have produced? Not at all. I am who I am. I might not have always been the best this and the best that, but I’m bettering myself every day. I made two women in my life extremely well-off. That’s where I’m at with it. They’re happy. They got that bread. They can maneuver.
Did the show bring you back to relevancy in the music world? Absolutely. The first season … Puff and everybody like, ‘Whatchu doin’, my man? What are you doing?’ My friends were calling me like, ‘Man, you’re going to lose your legacy.’ But I had it all planned out … I wouldn’t let anybody know my plan of attack. Cut to [now]: the Puff Daddy record and Ty Dolla $ign [record] is flying up the charts. I’m working on Pusha T. I just finished Kelly Price’s d— near whole album, and a Faith Evans and Biggie album. I’m working with Keyshia Cole. Keyshia called me and told me she wants to spend a month and a half with me. She said she’s been working with all these producers and they can’t give it to her. So she came to the studio. I picked up my guitar and played my piano and she was like, ‘I didn’t know. You got that sound I need.’ And with Puffy coming on [our] spinoff show … and saying what he said as far as giving me my credit, and saying that I was one of the best producers and musicians and writers, that’s when everybody really started taking notice. I appreciate my brother Puff for that.
What’s it been like working with Puff again after all these years? It’s even better. I bring a smile to everybody’s face in the studio. I always did, but now it’s everybody always cracking up. Puff will bring me to the side and be like, ‘You’re almost more famous than me!’ Our combination is better because I’ve reached a certain level of success aside from Bad Boy.
Are you going to be at the reunion concert? I’m going. You just kind of … like … threw me off a little bit.
I did? Yeah, because I didn’t look at it like that. Sometimes I forget what I’ve done … I don’t look at it the way the outsider sees it. I’m just so happy to have been a part of history in the ’90s. Puff’s still got fans from the ’90s. Jay Z got famous in the ’90s, Lil’ Kim, 112, Faith Evans. To know that a concert can sell out in seven minutes and then another one right after it can sell out, and [they’re] all going to be performing my music … it makes me feel honored and blessed.
What is your biggest regret? I was a party animal! Savagery. I regret not doing [ex-girlfriend] Eve right. She was one of my best friends, and we made great music together. I wrote her [ 2001 ] hit, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” the one with Gwen Stefani on it.
She and Gwen are going tour together this summer. Awesome! If she needs a musical director, baby, I’m right here! But at the end of the day, I regret not really focusing on the business and not focusing on those who truly loved me. I was on some, ‘I got this, I know this.’ I didn’t know s—. I thought it was something it really wasn’t. It was so bananas, because Eve and I loved each other. Eve’s such a sweetheart. There was a time where she couldn’t be in the studio if I wasn’t with her. She couldn’t go out of town if I wasn’t with her. That’s the love we shared. And for me to f— up on something like that … I was my worst enemy in my relationships.
Is that one reason why you had the career slowdown before the reality show came? Absolutely. I was hanging with the wrong people … and nobody wanted to be around these type of people, but I thought it was cool. No. They was the downfall. And sometimes we got to sit down on the bench and get pines in our ass until you learn the game. And I learned the game.
What’s Stevie J like in the studio — now? He don’t need nobody in the studio. I have a couple of studios and my favorite one is the one that’s real intimate. It just has all my instruments: eight guitars, basses, keyboards. That’s the room Keyshia Cole comes to and does her songs. Kelly Price has been in there, a lot of artists have been there. They love that room because I can just go in and do me without a whole bunch of chicks, without the liquor flowing, without the weed in the air, because I know where I want to be. I didn’t want to come in like the hunky-dory guy. I wanted to come in with some real reality. I didn’t want to come in like I was this great, squeaky clean guy. No, I wanted to come in truthfully and show the world me. I wanted to show my character, me with the women. Every man goes through it, and now that I’ve shown how my children love me, and how these two women love me still, no matter what. It might not be a love to where they want to be with me forever, but it’s a love like, d—, he really did care for us and gave us everything we needed to go to the next level.
So this moment feels very transformative for you? At the end of the day, I want to go down like the Quincy Joneses, I want to go down like Babyfaces. I want to go down like Dr. Dre. Yes, it makes me really see the light for Puff to be like, ‘Come on, you gotta get back into music with me.’ That makes me feel great, that my friends didn’t forget about me. They just wanted to see me get my s— together.
And now you’re probably the most notorious guy on reality TV. And sexy, how about that, too? I’m in that gym heavy now. You don’t have to tell me you’re excited, baby!